Review – Michael Woodman – Psithurism

Thumpermonkey guitarist/vocalist Michael Woodman released ‘Psithurism’ on Friday, 6th August 2021, through Believers Roast. Named for the ancient Greek term for wind in the trees, ‘Psithurism’ moves away from Woodman’s maximalist sci-fi contributions to Thumpermonkey’s recent ‘Make Me Young Etc’, inhabiting instead the quiet interstices between mossy wet stones. 

‘Murder ballads with funny counting’, if you like – fusing 70s progressive influences with 80s Scott Walker and weird fiction – sinister narratives featuring backwoods criminality, cryptids hidden in the shin-tangle, recently burned buildings hissing in rain, and the warm, sad ochre of nostalgia.

A fine piece of press release journalism there as it really does cover what this album is all about. Five tracks of low key, low-fi pared back wonderment, ‘Psithurism’ takes Michael’s melancholy, plaintive falsetto vocal and marries it with music that is at times achingly beautiful and, at others, painfully sparse and deliciously dark and discordant.

From the ethereal and mercurial opening vocals of Sacramento, with its clever parcity of musical notes and definite feeling of less is more and austere restraint, this at times whimsical musical gem treads its own definitive path. I love the ethereal whimsy of Petrichor before the dissonant guitar and strident drums change the atmosphere, it is very intelligent songwriting that leaves you wondering what is really behind the glossy and wistful exterior.

There’s an almost anarchic feel to the guitar that bleeds into ‘Cloned In Error’, a pensive journey into melancholy that, at times, reminds me of Radiohead’s Karma Police. Thoughtful and somber, The Levitant continues to cement the impression that there is something very different from the norm at the heart of Woodman’s music, the gently echoing acoustic guitar is the perfect foil to his haunting and mesmerising vocals. This EP comes to an all too early conclusion with the wistfully dark soundscapes of Seachange, a track that ebbs and flows between capricious whimsy and nihilistic bombast.

A hugely impressive and admirably different collection of songs that shows Woodman’s impish creativity at its best. A musical breath of fresh air that will leave a smile on your face and wonderment in your soul.

Released 20th August, 2021

Psithurism | Michael Woodman (bandcamp.com)

Review – Thumpermonkey – Electricity – by James R Turner

Festivals, there’s no better way to get out the house for a day or two, or even longer, than spend time at one of the may prog festivals that happen across the country and tend to cater for most tastes.

The beauty of the festival is that it’s the live equivalent of the ‘sampler’ CD’s that are glued to the front of magazines, the chances are you’ve heard one or two of the bands, or the draw is a band you want to see live.

I can also guarantee (unless you can afford to go to every festival/gig/showcase out there, which sadly I can’t) that you’ll see names on the list that you have never heard of before.

Those are my favourite types of acts at festivals, because it’s a blank canvas, a total step into the unknown, and my definition as to how good a band is at a festival or support act used to be, have I walked away shelling out my festival spends on the bands back catalogue?

I’m sure there’s plenty of you out there who know exactly what I mean, and we end up with shelves full of CD’s from bands who we saw live but don’t quite dissect the Colmans when it comes to the record, so I updated my definition, as to are they someone who I would listen to again and again at home?

This is how I got introduced to Thumpermonkey, there I was back in Bristol in 2014 after the end of a marriage, in a one bed flat in Bedminster with a rare Saturday off in the next few days, and I spotted that Ian Fairholm’s Eppyfest was on in Stroud at the weekend. Henry Fool and The Fierce and the Dead were the draw bands for me, as I’d never seen Henry Fool, and I loved TFATD in Camden, so this was a great way for me to spend an afternoon. So I ordered my ticket, drove the scant 30 odd miles to Stroud, met Mike and Julie Kershaw and Brian Watson for the first time and renewed my acquaintance with Mike Whitfield, an old regular from my CRS days, to settleback for an afternoon/evening of great music.

Laura Kidd (She Makes War) had recommended Thumpermonkey to me, and I quote ‘They are da bomb’ and as Laura has superb musical taste, you don’t dismiss one of her recommendations.

She was right, they were ‘da bomb’ and I left exhilarated after an exciting and eclectic set clutching both their albums in my grubby palms, and they got listened to on the journey back (and on a regular basis here at Turner towers).

(Photo by Simon Kallas for Chaos Theory)

Released on 13th October on physical and download, ‘Electricity’ is the first release of new music from the band since ‘Sleep Furiously’ in 2012, and is packing more ideas in it’s 20 minutes of music than some bands get in a lifetime.

According to bandcamp this is a concept album around the story of human misadventure from Victorian MP Lord James Badger, who went to conquer the civilisations of Mesopotamia using electricity and covers the whole gamut of human foolishness.

I will start by saying that Thumpermonkey are never going to be everyone’s mug of Darjeeling, as there are some out there who prefer the mass produced generic sounds that lots of bands who get thrown into the ‘prog’ label produce, the aural equivalent of a Big Mac or Burger King that gives you a quick fix, but will never satiate your appetite, think of Thumpermonkey as your favourite secret restaurant, where you go but don’t want to tell anyone else about it case it becomes too popular too soon.

I will go have a sandwich, as I’m obviously hungry judging by all the food analogies going on above.

If like me you prefer your music to get you thinking, have some originality to it, a lot of quirk, strangeness and charm, then Thumpermonkey are your boys. If you want a crude idea as to where they fit into this crazy musical Pandora’s box of prog then, their EP launch party saw them supported by The Fierce and the Dead and Ham Legion.

The fact that they are only a four piece surprises me, as the sound that they make, and their intrinsic musical dexterity, always makes me think there’s more of them, this is as obvious live as it is on record.

The mix of musicianship and technicality is split beautifully here across the four tracks and it’s a pleasure to listen to.

The EP starts with Garmonbozia, which starts with some wonderful guitar work and vocals that build and build, as the music kicks it, with the vocals producing an excellent counter harmony, as Michael Woodman accompanies himself, his vocals and guitar work almost working against each other, producing a complex sounds that draws you in, and condenses the Thumpermonkey sound into a bite sized single.

This also shows another facet to their songwriting and performance, with the emphasis being fully on the song, and all intricate tricks and quirks that set them apart from the crowd are now part and parcel of their musical bag, giving them a stronger and more musical edge.

Tzizimime has some fantastically jaggy guitar riffs, and the beauty of the band as musically adept as this is that keyboard player Rael Jones is also a superb guitarist and their twin guitar effect is superb, like Wishbone Ash if they ever went into free form improvisation of the King Crimson stylee.

This is not a Fire is as different again, there is plenty of emphasis on guitar work here, the drum and bass of Sam Warren and Ben Wren provide the bedrock for the Thumpermonkey town of sound to be built upon, and throughout all this Woodman’s vocals (again something that polarises listeners) impress. Personally I think they are fantastic, and his range is superb, hitting both the higher and lower notes, and utilising his voice as a 6th instrument. Building the songs as much around the vocal lines as the riffs, and then setting them off against each other.

Woodscrivened see’s Rael’s keys to the fore, with some delicate and sublime piano work kicks off the final part of this quartet, rounding off the ‘Electricity’ story, one of those great concept pieces that are fitted together from disparate influences, as the guitars and full band kick in, and the vocal talents of Woodman again show their power.

Thumpermonkey live in top gear are a sight to behold, and here on this 20 minute EP you get a taster of them, they have successfully managed not to tame their live tiger, and instead let it roar throughout these tracks, managing to pull back when needed, and unleash their full power in controlled measured bursts, this is no mean feat, and it bodes very well indeed for the album due next year.

If you get the chance to see them live do so, they do not disappoint, and whilst we’re waiting for the new album, this EP is as perfect ‘tease’ as possible, whilst being a fully rounded piece of work.

To misquote Laura Kidd, ‘Thumpermonkey are still da bomb!’

Released 13th October 2017

Buy the ‘Electricity’ EP from bandcamp